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Manning sentence to expose price of leaks

When a military judge announces PFC Bradley Manning's sentence for leaking classified documents, it could intimidate future whistleblowers.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

When a military judge announces PFC Bradley Manning's sentence for leaking classified documents, it could intimidate future whistleblowers.

Supporters of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning hold up banners as they protest outside of the gates at Fort Meade, Md., Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, before a sentencing hearing at Manning’s court martial. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana/AP)

With Pfc. Bradley Manning set to learn how much time he will spend in prison for the largest leak in U.S. history, transparency advocates will soon know the sort of price future would-be leakers could pay for exposing wrongdoing.

Army Col. Denise Lind, the military judge in the case, is set to hand down her sentence at 10 a.m. ET.

Manning was convicted on July 20 of 20 criminal counts, including espionage and disobeying orders, for providing 700,000 classified documents to online transparency group WikiLeaks in 2010. He faces decades in prison for the leak.

During a sentencing hearing last week, Manning apologized for any harm he might have caused United States interests and said, “When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.”

Transparency advocates believe that Manning’s case will have a chilling effect on future leaks and have said that the Obama administration has been too harsh on people who provide secret information to the media. Obama’s Department of Justice has charged more people under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined.

Manning spent three years in jail prior to the June start of his trial, nine months of which he spent in solitary confinement. After deciding that time amounted to excessive punishment, Lind ruled in January that Manning’s sentence would be reduced by 112 days.

While Lind’s decision to acquit Manning of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge he faced, there is still widespread concern that those who seek to expose wrongdoing enjoy insufficient protections from retaliation and prosecution. The Whistleblower Protection Act, which President Obama signed in November 2012, does not cover contractors like Edward Snowden, who this summer leaked classified information on America’s surveillance programs. The exception could leave thousands of men and women vulnerable to prosecution for shedding light on abuses.